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Lessons learnt from our first Christmas Market

15 December, 2016

Lessons learnt from our first Christmas Market

The fairy lights twinkled merrily, the Christmas carolers started on the second verse of Winter Wonderland and the crowd slowly weaved its way around the room...

This time last week we took part in a Christmas Fair for the first time as stallholders.  Setting up a stall seemed like the ideal way to showcase our products, build a little brand awareness and hopefully make some sales.

As with almost everything you do as a new business, setting up a market stall was completely new to us.  The last time I had taken part in any sort of market was helping my mum out on the home-baking stall at my Primary School Coffee Morning when I was about 10.  

But how hard could it be?  Sorcha and I chose the Junior League of London's Boutique de Noel - a one-day event, relatively close to home, and indoors so we didn’t have to worry about the weather.  It turns out that it was harder than we had ever imagined - but also more fun and more rewarding than we expected too.  Here are four lessons that I will take away from our experience as first time Christmas Market Stallholders:

1. It is impossible to predict visitors or sales

Junior League of London Christmas Fair

A slow start.. at this point we were slightly worried we'd have no visitors at all!

We did lots of research - visiting markets, asking the event organisers and questioning everyone we knew who had ever had a market stall themselves and they all agreed that visitor numbers and sales are impossible to predict.  The event organisers told us what visitor numbers we might expect based on previous years, but so many changes such as the date, venue, and other stallholders meant we couldn’t rely too much on those.  We were also told that even though we were at an indoor venue, the weather would make a huge difference to how many and what type of people would be walking past and come in on the day.

So, how much stock to take? In the end we settled on as much as we could easily transport and store at our stall on the day.  I think we made the right choice.

2. There is a big difference between online and offline customer needs

A physical stall gave us the opportunity to chat to lots of different people, not only the ones we have visiting our website usually.  

We naively thought that we knew our customer pretty well.  We have started to consistently make sales online now, and thanks to customer feedback and tracking we could understand the type of people that visit, and what they are generally looking for from a gift.  Our offline customers are (unsurprisingly) less interested in the handy ‘post it later’ option, and really wanted gifts that were easy to pack in their suitcases to take home to family themselves.  Luckily our mini boxes are exactly that - phew!

3. Other stallholders are great

Prior to the fair we had researched the other stallholders, both thinking about whether we might have similar customers, and also thinking about if we might be able to sneak in some of our own Christmas shopping while we were there.  What we hadn’t thought about was what a wonderful source of knowledge and information other stallholders could be.

santa at Junior League of London Christmas Fair

Not a stallholder.. but there's not much Santa doesn't know about Christmas!

With many of them very experienced in Christmas fairs, they talked far more openly to us as fellow stallholders than when we visited markets as customers.  We got hints for other fairs to try, and also tips for setting up our stall the next time!

It was also great to share our experiences outside of the market.  From Facebook ads to website design, there was plenty to discuss about the online world too.

4. It is better to be over- than under-prepared

Inevitably, there were things we had prepared before the fair that we actually didn’t need on the day.  The cash float that we had spent ages deliberating - every single person paid by card; the Christmas carrier bags that we sourced - most people brought their own.  But there were things we did that were actually really helpful.  We decorated the front of our stall with some of KnitsonStix knitted fairylights, and we found that they were a great attraction and talking point.  

christmas fair set up

We may not have done everything right, but I am really pleased with the way that it turned out, and I’m not sure I’d change much at all for next time - except maybe worry slightly less!

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